Monday, February 23, 2015

Three Love Teams That Shaped Philippine History

Tampuhan by Juan Luna, 1895
I was planning to write and publish this post for Valentine's day, unfortunately life interfered again and it didn't make it (as it always does when it comes to my writing). I wanted to write about the most enduring love teams in Philippine history to celebrate the "love" month. While browsing around the web though, I came across an article at called "The Real Life Fairy Tale That Changed Philippine History Forever".

The article talked about the love story of the future Spanish king and queen who met in secret, got married and united the kingdoms of Aragon and Castille which eventually became Spain, the kingdom where the sun never sets. Their union eventually had a great impact on Philippine history. Mr. Jo Rodriguez's article inspired me to write beyond the cheesy Filipino love teams you have probably already read about a thousand times online. I dug a little bit deeper and decided to write about the love teams that greatly impacted the history of the Philippines. 

Rizal's Crisostomo Ibarra and Maria Clara

They may be fictional but their tragic love story made a huge impact on the mindset of Spanish colonized Filipinos. Roughly speaking, Ibarra and Maria Clara did not really have a love team if you would compare it to how the term is used in Philippine showbiz. They were never allowed to be together. They never accomplished anything that involved each others team work. In fact after the first happy parts of Noli Me Tangere, they never saw each other again. However, it is their love story that fueled the whole plot of Rizal's novels culminating in a changed and bitter Crisostomo Ibarra in El Filibusterismo.

Both novels changed not only Rizal's and his family's life. It gave birth to a Filipino thinking that did not exist before, that of nationalism. The Philippines as we know is composed of 7000 plus islands. Before the coming of the Spanish colonists we were an archipelago of separate balangays which eventually grew into regionalistic schisms that the colonists did not discourage as it kept the Philippines divided among itself. Rizal's novels succeeded in knocking off bits of this wall to gradually seed the idea of one Philippine nation, perhaps not entirely free of the shadow of Mother Spain but at least equal in stature and rights as their "Spanish brothers".

Crisostomo Ibarra and Maria Clara did not only show the ills of colonial Philippine society, but among others, the futility of trying to change things in a peaceful manner. Rizal may or may not have intended it, but Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo where the sparks in the dark that ignited the Philippine Revolution that ended the Spanish occupation on Filipino soils.

Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos

One might say that the Marcoses are the Philippine's very own royalties. They created their own Camelot on Philippine shores albeit benefiting only the chosen few known today as the Marcos cronies. To this day, Marcos loyalists claim that the Philippines has never seen a better president. All the other succeeding ones pale in comparison to the achievements of the great Ferdinand Edralin Marcos. They failed to mention though the deaths, disappearances, tortures and incarcerations that murked his 21-year presidency and what his regime cost the Philippine public, to the tune of P28.3 billion pesos in debts.

Their love story started innocently enough. A whirlwind romance commencing on a wedding after eleven days of courtship. In Ferdinand Marcos's words to Imelda, "It's not love at first sight, I've loved you all along." They were destined to meet, destined to rule and were destined to fall together.

Some believe that it was Imelda's excesses that alienated them from the Filipino people. Others believe that it was Imelda's excesses that put the Philippines on the map of the world. Rubbing faces with all the world's royalties, good or bad. Displaying opulence and extravagance that did not fit with the economic status of a struggling little country in Asia. Nevertheless, the world took notice and to the world Imelda was forever known as the president's wife with the 3000 shoes.

Ninoy and Cory Aquino

February isn't just the love month in the Philippines. It is also the month when we celebrate the EDSA revolution. Twenty nine years ago, on the 25th of this month the Marcos dictatorship ended after 3 days of peaceful demonstration by varied groups of Filipino society. A snap election brought the widow of assassinated Ninoy Aquino on the seat of the newly restored democracy.

The Ninoy and Cory union is a union of prominent Filipino political clans. In another world, Ninoy would have had a smooth career in Philippine politics perhaps even president with Cory by his side like she would have wanted to. Instead their union was pushed into the limelight of conflicting political ideas running head to head with a dictator that does not want to relinquish power. Their love story though short was filled with strength and passion not only for each other but for the Filipinos as well. "The Filipino is worth dying for." Ninoy Aquino's famous last word. 

Ninoy's was the lone voice loud enough to awaken the once again sleeping will of the Filipino people. And his wife Cory was the strength that kept him up when the world started tumbling down on him. He never lost his faith in the salvation of his people and his wife never lost faith in the soundness of his conviction. They both carried a yoke too heavy for any one man to carry but they persevered and in the end triumphed. 

You might say that all three love teams ended in tragedy one way or another. Fraught with death and heartache, struggles and challenges. However each death gave birth to hope and changes that greatly shaped the Philippine history as we know it today.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The State of Rice Production in the Philippines

Rice fields in the Philippines

The rice farming situation in the Philippines is getting closer to dire and almost non-existent. We used to be the largest rice producer in southeast Asia but has now become one of the largest importers in the region. More and more farmers are forgoing the fields in search of better alternatives or selling their lands to land developers converting the much needed planting fields into housing developments.

Farmers who quit the lands are usually those with little to gain and much to loose. Farming in the Philippines is still pretty much dependent on manual labor and other outdated means that seemed to have survived us since the times of the Spanish occupations. Most farmers still plow the fields with carabaos, plant the seeds by hand, spray fertilizers manually and still harvest mostly manually. And there are even some areas that still rely on rain for irrigation.

Farming in general is not subsidized by the government. Funding would usually come from cooperatives that lend them money with interest, but not all areas have working cooperatives and some might not get approved for the loans. In the absence of this option, most farmers would look to private lenders. They would usually turn to better off neighbors and pledge their farms and a portion of their harvest. In a perfect world this would be an okay alternative. However the weather in the Philippines is as unpredictable as its government. What might look to be a promising harvest now could all of a sudden be destroyed by a freak typhoon or heavy rains. If at the end of this harvest period the farmer is not able to meet the pledge required he will be expected to fulfill this obligation in the next planting season. If the same thing continues to occur, the end pledge would be such that almost none would be left for the farmer in his harvest and so he will be forced to accrue another debt or loose the ownership of his rice fields.

Research into rice production has been going on for decades. In point of fact, the IRRI or International Rice Research Institute in Los Banos has been the beacon of knowledge when it comes to rice planting in the Southeast Asia region. Representatives from neighboring countries would come and visit in order to learn better techniques in rice production from our own IRRI scientists. So why then are most of our farmers still stuck in the dark ages when it comes to rice production. And despite of large acres of arable lands, our rice production continue to miss the quota every year?

A probable explanation would be attitude. Most farmers, comfortable with their own methods are not always willing to change or put in more effort when introduced with some new methods in improving rice production. Another reason would probably be the size of rice output per planting season. Most farmlands are parcels with a different owner for every few hectares, as such most only produce yields enough for the owner's consumption. Another cause would be the big company rice buyers. Most would usually hold on to their rice supply until they could be sold at a much higher price. But since low supply and high demand results in rice importation, cheaper rice becomes available in the market and it's the local small farmers that suffer in the end.

According to IRRI, they have been working hand in hand with the Philippine government to solve this issue since 2010. Let's hope that in the near future, a change of attitude and production will be on hand.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Truth About the Aswangs

Last week Grimm featured a Wesen (pronounced vesen) called the aswang. For those of you who are not familiar with Grimm, it's a US series featuring a detective who also moonlights as the Grimm. The Grimm is a human with supernatural strength whose main purpose in life is to hunt down Wesens-- supernatural creatures who walk among us like normal human beings. According to, last weeks episode of the aswang was due to its Sgt. Wu character who in real life is Reggie Valdez, a Filipino born native of Quezon City.

What Are the Aswangs Really?

In the Grimm episode "Mother Dearest", the aswang was featured as a gray-shape-shifting monster that eats its firstborn's firstborn while still inside the mother's womb in order to stay alive. But what does Philippine folklore really say about the aswang?

According to my uncles whose favorite past-time is to scare us little kids with stories of aswangs and other mystical creatures, the aswang is actually a sort of general term for monsters that prey on sick people and pregnant women. There are two known types, the tik-tik and the manananggal.

The Tik-Tik

The tik-tiks are shape-shifting aswangs. The most popular form they usually take is a big black dog but they can also turn into small animals when they need to escape. The tik-tik is called a tik-tik because of the sound they make that goes like tick-tick tick-tick. One thing to remember about the tik-tiks is that if you hear the ticking sound on your roof they are most probably on the opposite side of the house meaning the lower floor or vice versa. Native Filipino houses were made of wood with a roof made of nipa or weaved anahaw with an elevated floor for the living quarters. The existence of the silong, the gap between the ground and the floor, and the anahaw roof makes it easier for the tik-tiks to attack either from the roof or the silong.

A typical bahay kubo

The Manananggal

The name manananggal probably came from the verb tanggal which in english means to remove. The manananggals are said to have the ability to separate the upper part of their body from the lower half. The upper part grows a bat like super wide spanned wings. In order to make this happen, the manananggal would put on a special oil all over her body when it's time to prowl for food. I say her because all of the stories I know about manananggals always mention a woman. While the tik-tiks seem to be predominantly male.

Facts About the Aswangs

  • Aswangs eat fetuses by either turning into an animal that can crawl or sit on top of the pregnant mother's belly button or through its threadlike tongue that it drops down from the roof.
  • Sick people and pregnant women smell like pizza to the aswangs.
  • Aside from fetuses aswangs also love to eat human liver.
  • When a fetus is eaten by an aswang, the mother would appear to have a miscarriage and give birth to premature dead babies.
  • Aswangs can levitate sick people in order to get to their livers.
  • Aswangs do not fly like superman, instead they walk and levitate and gets to point A from point B really fast.
  • Aswangs walk slightly floating off the ground, you will only see this if you peak between your legs while leaning your body downwards.
  • Aswangs cannot stare you in the face, they would always look at you from the corner of their eyes.
  • Aswangs can turn another person into an aswang through their saliva
  • You can test if a person who entered your house is an aswang by placing a walis tingting by your main door upside down. If the person starts to look uncomfortable and wants to get out of the house but can't, it's a sign that he/she might be an aswang.
  • The aswangs have to transfer their power to a member of her/his family at the point of death, otherwise he/she won't be able to die and continue to suffer.
  • Said power is in the form of a pearl like stone that the aswang will release from his/her mouth and the receiving family member will have to swallow it in order to complete the transfer.
  • There is a particular island in the Philippines where they say all the aswangs came from.
  • Your neighbor can be an aswang.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Day in Singapore

Here is a post long overdue... -------------
The Sands Hotel and Casino view from the Science Museum - Singapore

A few months back, one Saturday after work my friends and I decided to pack our backpacks and buy ourselves two-way bus tickets to Singapore. Living in Kuala Lumpur, that was a very easy thing to do as the tiny island country is only about 5 - 6 hours away depending on how long the bus drivers decide to stay on each stop, and how long the traffic and queue is to pass through the immigration gates both from the Malaysian side to the Singapore border.

It was going to be my first time in Singapore. As the bus rolled off the modern highways of Malaysia I thought of Manila and what my brother would probably be doing at that moment. I thought of Bicol and what my parents would probably be doing at that hour. And I thought why travelling was so difficult when I was still in the Philippines when it was this easy now that I'm working in Malaysia. Going cross country, on a whim, was something up there among the list of impossible things to do. 

Every time I go through immigration I always have this small fear of getting indefinitely detained and questioned and then turned home just because I'm carrying a Filipino passport. I guess it comes from stories I've heard of Filipinos getting detained in airports and then sent home. Most of them would have tourist visas. But without any intention of returning home. I can't say I blame them, my father was an illegal worker himself for 16 years in Japan, but these actions have serious repercussions not just in the travelling status of Filipinos but in the families they leave behind. I know. I've been there. 

As I walked towards the Singaporean immigration officer I felt the butterflies in my stomach fly. I probably just imagined the stern, serious look, or is it a requisite that all immigration officers should always look serious and never smile? The officer gave a cursory look at my passport, asked how long I was staying, and stamped. I heaved a sigh of relief and smiled. 

Being a "whim trip", none of us booked any room nor planned any itinerary. We arrived in the streetlamp lit streets of Singapore at four in the morning. We had absolutely no idea where we were staying nor where we were going. On top of that, we only had Malaysian Ringgits in our pockets with only one of our friends carrying some Singapore dollars on hers. It was enough for us to get a cab and buy ourselves some dimsum which we decided was a little bit expensive seeing the size of what was advertised as large dimsum. Singapore is an expensive country, and we are not Singaporeans.
At 5AM Singapore time we started our tour. Needless to say, it was a walking tour. No Singapore dollars, no cab. And since it was the wee hours of the morning there was no point in finding a hostel either. We found ourselves aimlessly walking the streets of Singapore's financial district. It was just like the streets of the Makati financial district in Manila where I used to work, except in Makati the streets are never empty of people. I guess I was expecting something a little bit flashier. Then came the roar of a Ferrari. 
We ended on the shores of the Marina Bay, bags behind our backs. We watched the lights coming from the three towers of the Marina Bay Sands and the interesting shapes of the concrete petals of the Science Museum. This alien landscape made me think of sci-fi movies. I tried to take some pictures but the light was too poor for my cellphone's camera. It was just like me to come to a trip unprepared, I vowed next trip I'm taking a better camera. We met stylish Singaporeans just coming out of classy clubs. I wonder what they must have thought about our baggy shorts and baggy shirts? 

Tired and sleepy from the overnight bus trip we tried to sleep it off on the benches dotting the river passage beside the Theatre on the Bay, like some helpless and homeless street people. We were probably the only helpless and homeless street people of Singapore that morning. 
As the sun reached its zenith, and after a bit of a struggle understanding the bus driver's Singlish, we found ourselves on the busy thoroughfare of Orchard road. Instead of the Singlish and Chinese we heard people talking in Tagalog everywhere. It was just like being in Manila again. It was Sunday. All the Ates were out taking their days off. And they were all in their best clothes. High heels and skinny jeans and sometimes daring tops. Others in flowing dresses. All were excitedly chattering, sometimes shouting in Tagalog. It was their day to be themselves, to eat adobo at the Filipino restaurant and reconnect with Filipino friends. To alleviate homesickness and get in touch with the latest news back home. The Ates are the helps and yayas we grew up with and who had left us looking for greener pastures. Who else from the Philippines have not gone abroad in search of greener pastures anyway? While the rest of the world travel to seek themselves and find adventure, the Filipinos leave home to find a better life. Or at least we hope. While most of the world can easily come home when they get tired of traveling, most Filipinos banish themselves, sometimes for life. I have yet to visit a country where I won't run into any fellow Filipino.

Right there on Orchard road, with its rows of signature and designer clothes which none of us could afford, we found an echo of home. Albeit a small corner. But as the day wore on, we were reminded that we were not in Manila anymore after all. The train stations with their fast escalators and fast trains were all modern and clean. The city was all about efficiency. The architecture modern. Here people could afford to walk the streets in Prada and Louboutins.. in Manila Gap is a signature brand.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Pasko na Sinta ko: A Christmas Tribute to all Filipinos Spending Their Christmasses Away from Family and Home

It's always fun reminiscing about Christmas in the Philippines, especially of Christmas for children in the Philippines. There is probably no place else in the world where it's more fun to celebrate Christmas than in the Philippines. Of course, I could be biased. I'm talking about Christmas in my home after all. If you want to get at least an idea of what I'm talking about, let Mikey Bustos tell you all about it.

For us Filipinos spending Christmas away from our homes, it's a bit different of course. Especially Filipinos working in non-Christian countries. Although Christmas might be celebrated, the real spirit is just not there. To none Christians the only aspect captured is the material part, which is well, material gifts. And there is no carolling, no christmas songs repeatedly playing in the radios. No christmas trees and no blinking christmas lights in front of homes to light our ways.

To Filipinos celebrating their Christmases at home, remember your family who is not there with you. Celebrate Christmas for what it is, and not just for the material things. For those celebrating Christmas with their family complete, cherish it. Not all of us are as lucky as you are. To those who for the first time will be celebrating their Christmas after losing a family or a friend, remember your lost loved ones with all the happy memories that they have left you with.

Here is a song rendered by Gary Valenciano, Pasko na Sinta ko.

Maligayang pasko po sa ating lahat at manigong bagong taon!!!